Today on the site, Robert Kirby reviews the recent Spanish comics anthology Spanish Fever:
The talent roster in Spanish Fever ranges from well-known pros like Miguel Gallardo and Max, to newer artists like Ana Galvañ and Clara-Tanit Arqué. There’s a wide variety of narrative and visual styles, ranging from traditional underground comix to the ubiquitous European “big nose” style to work that would look at home in an American minicomic. In subject matter, the stories range from autobiographical, political, and quotidian to surreal and just flat-out weird. It’s an eclectic stew that comes together agreeably, making a good case for the vibrancy of the Spanish comics scene, though a few weaknesses keep it from being a truly top-notch compendium.
In his introduction, Eddie Campbell notes that the new Spanish comics all share the importance of authorial voice, i.e., that they feature characters that are pure expressions of the authors, beholden to no meddling publishers or corporations. Garcia’s forward to the collection extrapolates on this theme, offering a mini-history of Spain’s comics leading to its current artistic renaissance amid the country’s current economic crisis.
Lauren Weinstein's wonderful strip, Normel Person, has a new installment -- one of her best.
—Interviews & Profiles. At Forbes, Rob Salkowitz profiles Emil Ferris, creator of the upcoming My Favorite Thing About Monsters, which looks to be a major book.
“I spent the last 20 years or so being a single mom, raising my daughter in Chicago,” said Ferris when we spoke by phone. The daughter of free-spirited artistic parents, Ferris grew up telling stories and drawing in her notebooks, much as her young protagonist Karen does in the book.
Fourteen years ago, her life took an unexpected turn. “I was bit by a mosquito, and a few weeks later, woke up paralyzed from the waist down, unable to speak and had lost the use of my right hand.” Ferris had contracted West Nile virus, and her sudden disability derailed her career doing commercial art and industrial design.
She spent her days at the Art Institute of Chicago, determined to power through her disability using the power of art. “I became so invigorated that I began to heal,” she said. “I got some facility in right hand and started to draw more, first digitally and then with pen and paper.”
Is it true that you decided to begin your memoir after the Syrian uprising?
Yes, exactly. Because I had to help a part of my family still living in Homs. They wanted to come to France and were denied visas. So I had to go to the French administration and meet with people, incredible people, and I wanted to show how stupid they could be. But to be interesting, I decided I should tell the story from the beginning.
So there was almost a practical reason?
Yes, exactly. And also, because I’ve made two movies. My first movie in France was a huge success — French Kissers. And after this movie, I made another movie, Jacky in the Kingdom of Women. It was a complete failure. And after that, I had no more friends. My phone was no longer ringing. [Laughs.] It was incredible. So I told myself, “Okay, I have no more friends, my life is over, maybe everything is over for me.” And I asked myself, “What would you do before dying?” And I said I would write this story about my family and my childhood, and I started to make this book. So thanks, Jacky! [Laughs.]
As part of Black History Month, Allstate Insurance has produced a short video biography of Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics in Philadelphia.
We have had to come to the sad conclusion that he is now effectively retired: he will produce no new art, and he is unable to attend conventions. Should this situation change I will happily announce it here.
He can still sign his name (in fact he was signing Kickstarter prints in the hospital!), and is otherwise pretty healthy and has good cognition. We expect to continue releasing signed prints, and offering occasional pieces of art for sale from the collection that remains. We both thank all of you for your continuing support and good wishes!
In an interview about his reading habits at the New York Times, novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks repeatedly about his love of comics, namechecking the Hernandez brothers, Alan Moore, Rumiko Takahashi, Osamu Tezuka, Adrian Tomine, and Gene Luen Yang, among others.
Comic books long ago predicted presidents like Donald Trump, in series like Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’s “Give Me Liberty.”
The more I read, the less clear I am about the difference between mini-comics and other comics. Consider the output from Retrofit, for example: are these mini-comics, standard comics, or something else? How much does the length of a mini-comic impact this classification? I will use Kurt Wolfgang's instructive slogan ("Mini-Comics: You Know 'Em When You See 'Em") and present my top short-form comics of the year, be they self-published, published by someone else, or (in a few cases) appearing on the web. The usual caveats apply here, as I've not read a bunch of key short-form comics from 2016 yet (Ganges 5, the latest Uptight, King Cat 76, Frontier #12 and #13, , Your Black Friend, and minis from Simon Moreton, for example.)
Krazy Kat has been described as a parable of love, a metaphor for democracy, a “surrealistic” poem, unfolding over years and years. It is all of these, but so much more: it is a portrait of America, a self-portrait of Herriman, and, I believe, the first attempt to paint the full range of human consciousness in the language of the comic strip. Like the America it portrays, Herriman’s identity has been poised for a revision for many decades now. Michael Tisserand’s new biography Krazy does just that, clearing the shifting sands and shadows of Herriman’s ancestry, the discovery in the early 1970s of a birth certificate which described Herriman as “colored” sending up a flag among comics researchers and aficionados. Tisserand confirms what for years was hiding in plain sight in the tangled brush of Coconino County, Arizona, where Krazy Kat is supposedly set: Herriman, of mixed African-American ancestry, spent his entire adult life passing as white. He had been born in the African-American neighborhood of racially mixed, culturally polyglot 1880s New Orleans, but within a decade Herriman’s parents moved George and his three siblings to the small but growing town of Los Angeles to escape the increasing bigotry and racial animosity of postbellum Louisiana. The Herrimans melted into California life, and it was there that George, with brief professional spates in New York, would remain for the rest of his life.
Inspired by recent political events, Bully has discontinued his currently running feature chronicling celebrity appearances in comics, and rebooted the year with a new series: defiance in comics.
—News. The New York Times announced that they will be discontinuing several of their bestseller lists, including the one dedicated to comics and graphic novels. Michael Cavna of the Washington Post (which doesn't publish a comics bestseller list) writes about the decision and some of the reaction here. Abraham Riesman writes about the development for Vulture, getting quotes from Fantagraphics's Eric Reynolds and Drawn & Quarterly publisher Peggy Burns -- and bizarrely using a spread of 1970s Marvel covers as the story's lead image.
Obviously the Times list provided a welcome marketing tool for smaller comics publishers, and in that sense, in which it becomes a bit harder to sell good comics, this is an indirect setback for the artform. But some online response from readers has seemed oddly personal and angry, as if the Times owes fans this validation. I think that anger is misplaced; the Times' inept regular coverage of comics is far more offensive than the discontinuation of this list. (By the way, the open dirty secret of newspaper bestseller lists is that they aren't exactly based on hard numbers. A great deal of what you could politely call "curation" goes on. So the list was never a reliable source of sales data in the first place.) The list's cancellation is certainly not a positive development, but a sense of perspective is always useful.
Jack Mendelsohn, the cartoonist of the great and short-lived comic strip Jacky's Diary, has passed away. Mendelsohn had a varied and well-traveled career. I've amended my Art Out of Time biography of him. It's here.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Mendelsohn’s ambition was always to be a cartoonist. His father, Irving, was Winsor McCay’s film agent, and the young Mendelsohn visited McCay numerous times. Mendelsohn also visited his favorite local cartoonist, Stan Mac Govern, and received an original Silly Milly comic strip for his trouble. A high school dropout and Navy enlistee, Mendelsohn began his comics career after World War II as a freelance gag cartoonist for magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, and a script writer for dozens of funny animal, humor, and fantasy comic books, including Felix the Cat. Later, he wrote for MAD Magazine and its sister humor comic Panic. A restless, energetic young man, Mendelsohn moved to Mexico in 1951 and stayed for the better part of the decade, hatching Jacky’s Diary there as well.
Jack is remembered by Mark Evanier here and there are Facebook remembrances here.
Today on the site, Keith Silva is back with a review of Luke Healy's How to Survive in the North.
The first historical account Healy recalls focuses on an arctic expedition led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson in 1913. To say Stefansson ‘led’ the expedition is a kindness Healy barely cops to, ‘financed’ and then ‘abandoned’ halfway in comes closer to the telling. The hero of the 1913 narrative is Captain Robert Bartlett a/k/a ‘The Ice Master,’ if, as Healy points out, you trust Newfoundlanders. As stolid and deep as the wilderness around him, Bartlett is what’s expected in a story about old-timey explorers and the insurmountable odds they face.
Counter to Bartlett’s alpha male is Ada Blackjack, the hero of the second historical narrative. A native Alaskan woman, Blackjack signs on as a seamstress to a 1921 expedition to claim, as the leader of the expedition tells her, “a little spit called Wrangel Island” for Canada. Blackjack plays POSSLQ in this all-male expedition which includes (spoiler) a member of Stefansson’s 1913 expedition and a perpetual grump, Lorne Knight.
Healy’s introductions to Bartlett and Blackjack show an economy in storytelling to match his drawing. Within a couple of pages and a handful of panels, Healy demonstrates how these characters will use opposing strategies to survive. Bartlett commands. Blackjack demurs. Neither strategy is better or worse. Survival results from endurance, and the method means nothing. Nature endures; humans, most of the time, do not. The arctic doesn’t care for theories, thoughts, or emotions, only practicalities. The survival of these characters depends on their natures, what they bring with them. What they pack. By setting his comic in a harsh climate, Healy plays with ideas of nature vs. nurture or determinism vs. free will, God or nothing. Blackjack plays timid, but that’s her nurture not her nature. When it comes to these historical figures, Healy sides with fate. The how these people survived or died was on them. The cold (nature) of the arctic brings out something in a person, sharpens them, but it can’t hone what isn’t there. Nature needs an edge in want of a good grinding.
—Reviews & Commentary. At the SAW blog, Josh Santospirito, who runs a comics convention in Tasmania, writes about what happened when he decided to entirely ignore men while planning the programming at this year's show.
So – for 2016’s festival I chose to attempt to make up for the previous two festivals with a new tactic. I simply decided to ignore men. Suddenly – the process seemed far less stressful; with this simple but strict parameter I could just look at all the great female artists (and there are squillions in the comics/illustration world) and organise the events around each of their skills and strengths. Simply by choosing to focus on one gender, I suddenly seemed to have no problem whatsoever in programming. I applied this philosophy to the visual artists, but I still attempted to get 50:50 with the bands/musicians on stage during the festival.
Then – later on in the piece once I had the shape of a pretty good festival and some of the programming gaps became a bit obvious – I placed a couple of token males (including myself) into the program to make it “appear” more rounded.
What was most striking about it all was the unique mode of delivery and process. The comics told stories, but they weren't exactly literature. It was definitely art, but it proudly defied classical artistic restrictions. The work was funny, but also dark, scary, unnerving, enlightened. These "adult comics" could do anything they wanted. It was all the best things combined, and yet entirely their own thing.
And the popular mythbusting site Snopes sifts the evidence regarding the most recent internet comics kerfuffle: whether or not Captain America co-creator Jack Kirby would personally punch a Nazi.
[A biography] also recounted Kirby's response to a violent threat against him at his workplace:
On occasion the Timely office would get phone calls and letters from Nazi sympathizers threatening the creators of Captain America. Once, while Jack was in the Timely office, a call came from someone in the lobby. When Kirby answered, the caller threatened Jack with bodily harm if he showed his face. Kirby told the caller he would be right down, but by the time Jack reached street level, there was no one to be found.
Soft City thus is a natural extension of the portrait of the individual as a depersonalized unit in society as machine that has been a central narrative in critical discourse in the modern era. Walter Benjamin’s characterization of the person as an automaton, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Aldous Huxley’s clinical dystopia, the assembly lines and buzzing wheels and cogs of Charles Chaplin’s Modern Times, and of course George Orwell’s Big Brother, form the basis of Pushwagner’s vision, while his formal presentation is in the tradition of the socially engaged modernist woodcut novels of Frans Masereel, Otto Nückel and others, as well as the disillusioned counter-culture of the 70s, notably its compromised pop art.
It would all be smotheringly rote if it were not staged with such conviction. Symmetry and synchronicity are the guiding principles. The books many panoramic spreads are ordered symmetrically, with the straight lines and angles of oppression subversively rendered in the artist’s imprecise and unruled, shaky hand. Synchronicity provides the structure of the narrative – the actions we witness are repeated ad infinitum by countless families across the at times almost diagrammatic compositions. Guided by their mothers, the children wave like machines to their fathers. But here and there, subtly, small human deviations are suggested between individual figures.
The publishing event of this young and terrible year so far is The Lowbrow Reader issue 10. That's right. This long-running zine, edited by TCJ-contributor Jay Ruttenberg, featuring illustrations by TCJ designer and secret weapon Mike Reddy has been examining the past and present of comedy since long before anyone thought it was cool. More importantly, it has published the great drawings of Gilbert Gottfried. Even more importantly, this latest issue if fantastic, and has Jay's brilliant discursive essay on the unlikely connection between The Velvet Underground and Family Matters. Go forth and get it.
Over at the Village Voice the great Lauren Weinstein drew an account of Saturday's march in Washington DC.
"As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.” -Philip Roth.
Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, highlighting the most interesting-sounding releases new to comics stores. This week's spotlight picks include new books by Joe Ollmann and Angelo Bioletto.
It's an NBM/Papercutz release of a 1949-50 Italian serial -- indeed, an officially licensed Disney story -- in which Mickey Mouse journeys through Hell, as rendered in a very tight, lunchbox-ready Disney House Style by artist Angelo Bioletto. The Dante-riffing writer is one Guido Martina, working in a good deal of legitimate verse. However, it appears the English script adds a number of new, 'modern' references to the original comic, I guess so the book can more efficiently be sold to kids. Ugh!
—Interviews & Profiles. Tom Spurgeon has posted the final two of his holiday interviews, with First Second editorial director Mark Siegel:
I think I've found my legs somewhat as an editor. I've always known there are certain stages of a book. When you have a conversation over thumbnails, I feel I'm looking at the acting, and looking at the staging and even in a cinematic way I'm paying attention to clarity in terms of the action and the staging the angles... it's not to try to make an homogenous style of art by any mean. I really do believe that it should read not just for the cognoscenti. It should be widely accessible. That's part of the broadening of audiences. That's one piece of it.
It feels like it's been a long time since I gave a shit about anyone "getting it." [Spurgeon laughs] So long, in fact, that it's tough to remember when I actually did. And, by having that attitude, I know I run the risk of missing out on certain connections that I'm sure other creators make with their readers. Anything that operates on a purely subtextual level in my work wouldn't be something that I would ever expect a reader to get. Again, those things are in there mainly for my own amusement. Even when the commentary runs deep, it's still personal to me and I have no expectations that anyone else is onboard. So, in terms of "fine lines..." there are none. Not for me, anyway.
I'm not actually one of those "nostalgia guys" who romanticize the past. I have no illusions about the past (well, not too many). I do not wish to live in 1920 or 1930 or any earlier time. I am repulsed by much of today's culture but I don't kid myself that things were any better in the past. Every era is fraught with problems and injustice and vulgarity.
So, yes, what I am interested in doing is constructing my own inner worlds. Sometimes, they are direct wish fulfillment (like my city of Dominion) and sometimes they are more fanciful (like the fake Canadiana of GNBCC). You nailed it with your understanding of my relationship to Canada. I wish to reinvent it for my own needs. I pick and chose what appeals to me and construct my own narrow picture. My Canada is pretty much a Canada that never existed. It's a jigsaw puzzle in which I have left out a lot of pieces.